Communion Cups and Crashed Saucers; part 1, Holy Violence

Peter Brookesmith
Magonia 54, November 1995.

No doubt to the amazement of many, this series does not exercise great sarcasms – well, not very great ones – against the claims of any UFO percipient, abductee, expert, crank, skeptic, or anyone else involved in the UFO syndrome. For the sake of my argument I have to treat all of them as if they’re telling the truth. Because, dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join these two in matrimony: the mystery of ufology, pregnant as that is with the strange bounty of the crashed saucers, and the mystery of God.

Of course, there’s nothing new in hooking flying saucers to the shirt tails of the Lord. We all know the usual suspects, but there are details of their claims and beliefs of which it’s worth being reminded.

Probably the best-known, certainly the longest-lived, sect to have discovered religion in UFOs is the Aetherius Society. This cult was founded by a London taxi-driver, George King, in 1955, as the result of an experience that would have had most people fleeing to the nearest out-patients’ department. In May 1954, King says, he was alone in his flat in Maida Vale, London, when he heard a voice confide: ‘Prepare yourself! You are to become the voice of Interplanetary Parliament.’

King took this news remarkably equably. Soon after, he was making telepathic contact with a being from Venus called Aetherius. King learned, among other things, that Jesus of Nazareth too was alive and well and living on Venus – enjoying a warmer climate than Israel’s.

Plainly, King would quite like to be another Messiah, and regales us with tales calculated to prove him worthy of the office. On one out-of-the-body trip to Mars, he found that a sentient asteroid ‘the size of the British Isles’ was attacking the Martian space fleet. When the Martians’ own military efforts failed, King himself – who else – led a final ‘death or glory’ assault that defeated the object with what he called ‘a weapon of love’. King now resides in Santa Barbara, CA – which also enjoys a warm climate.

Some prefer to see UFOs and ufonauts not as divine at all, but demonic; agents of Satan and possibly worse. We are told by John White, for example, in FSR (Summer 1992) that ‘America is at the leading edge of a millennial demonic invasion [of ufonauts] directed by the Prince of Darkness’, along with much more to the same effect. The editor of FSR seems to believe this kind of thing himself; he is known to have identified UFOs with djinns, whom he describes, not entirely accurately, as evil spirits in Moslem folk belief. [1]

Not that ‘real’ ufologists are always entirely pure in their perception of these things. I doubt I shall soon forget the occasion in a Chicago bar some years ago, when that well-respected MUFON commentator and self-proclaimed ‘scientific’ UFO investigator James McCampbell solemnly informed me, and a scarcely less startled Alvin Lawson, that the real head of the US space mission was himself an alien, and that the program of alien-human co-operation was linked to the international Jewish banking conspiracy. [2]

And of course there’s Eric von Daniken, still the most egregious promoter of the so-called Ancient Astronaut hypothesis. According to this, spacemen came to Earth around 5,750 years ago, had their wicked way with the natives’ comely daughters (as might be expected, after all that time cooped up in a spaceship) and lo! between them they generated humanity. Ever since, we have thought of those visitors as gods. More than 3000 years later, according to this thesis, people were still being fooled. Ezekiel thought he had a vision of God. Wrong. He saw a spaceship, which resembled something like four helicopters squidged together. Meanwhile, the ancient Egyptians, who were plainly too stupid to work out for themselves how to put one brick on top of another without making a right shambles of it, had had to have a little ET assistance with their program of civic architecture; and so the ‘argument’ goes on.

Of the more interesting variants on this theme, in which the aliens were at least someone else’s gods, was Robert Temple’s attempt to show that amphibious extra-terrestrials had once visited the Dogon tribe of Mali from the Sirius star system, and Robert Thompson’s bid to prove that Vedic mythology ‘proves’ the reality of modern UFO experiences (and vice versa). [3]


The underlying thesis of both the UFO religious cults and the ancient-astronaut crowd is that what we call gods or their hellish counterparts are really aliens. It’s no dafter than many another idea doing the rounds about aliens and UFOs. And the ancient-astronaut claim has a refreshingly ingenious core of emotional truth to it. To which I’ll return: for now, we might note two things about the existence of UFO religious cults.

First, that such cults exist at all demonstrates the rich potential of the UFO syndrome to adapt itself to religious purposes, and what can be made of ufological raw material if you have sufficient need. Indeed the ease with which the religions emerge from the material suggest that the belief systems are only efflorescences of what lies at the roots of the UFO syndrome, however extravagant and insistent its protestations of secularism and scientific endeavor.

Second, an impartial observer can hardly avoid noticing that the UFO syndrome amounts to a mass of self-contradictions, paradoxical claims, faulty logic and absurdities. For example: aliens are conventionally reckoned to be thousands, perhaps millions of years ‘more advanced’ than we are, both morally and technologically. But they utter banalities or dreamlike nonsense (‘La verité est refusée aux constipés’ and ‘Ce que vous appelez cancer vient des dents’ were two of Charles Bowen’s favorites) when they turn up to share their insights with us. And their craft, if Len Stringfield was on to anything at all, persist in breaking down and crashing. The abduction syndrome displays similar contradictions: ‘grays’ can float their victims through solid walls, yet seem to know nothing of even the rudiments of DNA. These contradictions, like those noted in scriptural texts by the tendenz school of scholarship, [4] are the vocally-challenged nocturnal canines of ufology. They silently beg us to ask if they are the product less of the evidence per se (such as that is) than of mythic and emotional necessity.

For some years, a number of scholars, such as Gordon Melton, John Saliba, John Whitmore and others have been pointing to this greater truth: that the UFO syndrome as a whole – not just the cults – and in any of its aspects, is essentially religious in nature. This assessment encompasses not just witnesses, but ufologists too, who act as ‘theologians’ of the saucerian religious impulse:
Things which do not fit into the definitions of the familiar humanity tends to sacralize... Researchers [into abductions] who devise interpretive scenarios tend to encounter religion whether they mean to or not, and even resort to theologizing about alternate realities and the final goal of human history. [5]
It seems that this thesis is not well-known inside mainstream ufology, let alone much heeded. There are honorable exceptions to this rule among ufologists as a whole: such as Hilary Evans, Paul Devereux, Bertrand M‚heust, and several of the writers associated with Magonia, who have drawn parallels between the two kinds of experience. But their relevant work is rarely cited in mainstream UFO writing – no doubt for reasons that are easy enough to conjure. By way of explanation it may be simpler to think of all those labeled as ‘skeptical’ of the more far-fetched ufological beliefs (among them the ETH) as being deemed heretics. This would at least help to explain the rage with which their effusions are often immediately greeted and the unflinching indifference with which they are treated thereafter. Be that as it may: none of the analysts cited has, as far as I know, really examined what kinds of gods inform the UFO syndrome, or how their images and associations resonate through the accounts of so-called aliens and their kit. Let alone those bits of kit that so embarrassingly crash here and there.

So I am going to begin – at last – at the beginning; and thus the three parts of this series will:
  • First, give you a guided tour of God
  • Second, show some of the parallels between perceptions of that God and perceptions of UFOs and aliens, and
  • Finally, propose how crashed saucers may fit into the religious outlook that underpins the UFO syndrome.

The world has many gods, not all of them compatible with one another. And only some of them, it seems, are compatible with the UFO phenomenon.

But the UFO phenomenon derives, and is largely driven, from the United States – ‘one nation under God’, and that God is Semitic. If we take the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, on its own terms, Professor R.C. Zaehner was right to say that ‘it is unmistakably the history of God’s self-revelation to man.’ [6] This is crucial to understanding how UFOs and aliens are related to motifs in the Semitic religions – that is, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and their variants and offshoots.

Long ago in Asia Minor, a stiff-necked tribe of herdsmen had the terrible experience of being chosen by God and in consequence thereafter of having to listen to his every word, as he revealed himself, over thousands of earthly years, to them. God spoke directly to Adam, to Noah, to Abram, to Moses, to the prophets Elisha and Elijah and Ezekiel and Isaiah, and to his faithful and bemused servant Job. The Lord seems to have spoken only occasionally to Jesus the Nazarene: the texts are ambiguous – but as the man is taken by his followers to be the Word made Flesh, this scarcely matters. God spoke through a vision of Jesus of Nazareth to Saul of Tarsus and appeared as himself, directly, to Mohamed.

He was a little more oblique with Joseph Smith in upper New York, but the principle is essentially the same. However, Smith is part of a specifically American dimension in this revelatory tradition, and to that I shall return. Understanding certain apparently fundamental and peculiarly American religious constructs is central to establishing a true picture of how the UFO syndrome is also a religious one.

East of Eden

There is nothing like this self-revelation of the divine in Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese or ancient Greek religion. The Eastern sages, some of whom uncannily but probably coincidentally have much in common with their pre-Socratic contemporaries such as Heraclitus and Parmenides in pagan Greece, seek to discover God for themselves. They exemplify ‘man’s reverent search for a true, because consistent, picture of the Divine.’ [7] Certainly there is not much that is consistent about the Semitic God as revealed in the canonical texts, let alone in what the Christian apocryphal writings disclose. If the thousand years of rabbinic tradition that culminated in the Talmud created a coherence and symmetry in its own apprehension of God, these were achieved more through argument and the sages’ own humanity than through direct revelation.

The One God, Adonai, is by self-proclamation a moral God. The singular gift of the Jews to the world is ethical monotheism. In Semitic religions the human individual is always under the judgmental eye of God, who has proclaimed his commandments and does not always deem humanity capable of determining where true justice lies. Its apportionment may have to wait for another dispensation altogether: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ [8]

In contrast, at the heart of the great Eastern religions is a longing to join God in the here and now, and so to obliterate the self: to be subsumed into the One, beyond good, beyond evil. The Eastern tradition might be called basically self-, not God-, centered, for it implicitly declares that you can become God. In Islam, that is blasphemy: it cost Hallaj, the great poet of Sufism, his life. There is some evidence that Charles Manson believed he had directly acquired divine attributes in a perverse Californian mutation of satori, and was thus, in his own estimation, above being concerned with matters of life and death, and outside the moral constraints of ordinary mortals. [9]

That fusion with the Absolute in Eastern mysticism ‘scrambles time and seasons’ into an eternal Now. In the Semitic traditions eternity, along with absolute justice, is in the first place experienced post-mortem, and then as an endless prolongation of time, with which God may be said to co-exist. The mystical strands in Semitic religions do not negate this generalization. Mystical experiences there put the ‘witness’ into the presence of God, providing glimpses of, but not identity with, the godhead, and in the process admit distortions of the infinite succession of days that is time.

To parody Prof. Zaehner: ‘If we take the UFO syndrome on its own terms, it is unmistakably the history of the aliens’ self-revelation to Man.’ And be it noted that both distant and close encounters may often involve a disruption in the witnesses’ perception of time, and that it is an integral part of the UFO mythos that the aliens are watching us – watching over us, according to the contactees. At very least they are presumed to be observing us, if only as anthropologists, and perhaps with more sinister intent, as Donald Keyhoe was convinced.



God may reveal himself to man, but he remains fundamentally unknown and unknowable, by his own admission – perhaps even by preference.

‘Thou canst not see my face,’ he told Moses in the tabernacle at Mt Hebron. Twenty five centuries or so later, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), the founder of Jewish philosophy, said that ‘there is no possibility of obtaining a knowledge of the true essence of God’. [10] Thus, no one can describe God, except by saying what he is not. For example, in his Moreh Nebuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) Maimonides says:

there is no relation between God and time or space. For time is an accident connected with motion …and is expressed by number…; and since motion is one of the conditions to which only material bodies are subject, and God is immaterial, there can be no relation between him and time. Similarly there is no relation between him and space. …as God has absolute existence, while all other creatures have only possible existence, as we shall show, there consequently cannot be any correlation [between God and his creatures]. [11]

Make no mistake. The Semitic God is absolutely Other: indivisible, invisible, indescribable, inscrutable, and incomprehensible. As Donald Crowhurst, in his madness, put it: ‘Nature allowed God only one sin – that of concealment.’
Omnipotence and Evil

We are constantly assured by religionists of all persuasions of the love, bounty and mercy of God. This is hardly a complete picture. The over-riding philosophical problem in ethical monotheism has ever been the existence of evil in the light of God’s alleged justice and compassion. As was inevitable, in the light of his role as Creator.

If God made the Universe, and is omnipotent and omniscient, and the fount of loving-kindness, ‘the merciful, the compassionate’, the Just God, how do we account for the existence of evil, human or transcendent, as personified by Satan? Laying evil at the feet of Man, as a product of an abuse of free will (a Catholic theodicy), [12] is fudging the issue. Since God made Man and knows him inside out, evil becomes inevitable. Christianity and Islam both attempt to block this gap by dabbling a foot into the Gnostic camp and elevating Satan to almost divine omnipotence – although lacking the creative or compassionate aspects of God himself.

But look at the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran with a steady eye, and it is plain enough. An aspect of God is evil itself. Evil is a product of God’s omnipotence, which includes his place as universal Creator.
The Revelation of Job

The quintessential confrontation with this problem is the Book of Job. God is unruly enough to take a bet with Satan (who is not the same figure as the Christian or Moslem Satan) on the steadfastness of Job’s faith. Job, seething with boils, acknowledges that the Lord is the source of evil and misfortune, and rebukes his wife’s despair and rage (‘Curse God, and die’) with the plain facts, which the poet-narrator openly endorses:
What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips. [13]
Job’s error is to imagine – to trust – that the horrors heaped upon him emanate from a divine sense of justice. His bewilderment lies precisely in not being able to comprehend what he has done wrong. But when he challenges God on this moral issue, the Lord angrily dismisses the question, and proceeds to expose himself as pure, naked, foam-flecked power. In Jung’s words, he is ‘eaten up with rage and jealousy’, ‘amoral’, ‘the unvarnished spectacle of divine savagery and ruthlessness’. [14]

Professor Herman Tennessen [15] puts it still more bluntly: God is condemned out of his own mouth as ‘a ruler of grotesque primitivity, a cosmic cave dweller, a braggart and a rumble-dumble, almost congenial in his complete ignorance [of] spiritual refinement.’ Job’s moral protests against his afflictions finally provoke the appearance of the Lord himself who, in Chapters 39 and 40, spurns Job’s own incorruptible faith in justice with an astonishingly expressed catalogue of his own terrible capacities. God’s sense of the glory of his own might obliterates ethical considerations.

Job’s repentance, Tennessen feels, is uttered ‘in the placative manner one would employ… to address a mentally deranged person.’ As God may be, but at the end of the story he is still in charge – in control. He even chastises Job’s ‘comforters’ for deploying virtually the same arguments as he has himself adduced on his own behalf. ‘But this,’ says Tennessen, ‘is only a cause for puzzlement as long as we cling to certain notions about divine justice and logic. After the Lord has introduced himself, nothing amazes us any more.’

Tennessen pertinently asks: ‘Is the whole of [Job] any more than a poetic game with an alien and out-dated concept of the divine? Do we know this god?’ – and answers:
Yes, we know him from the history of religion; he is the god of the Old Testament, ‘the Lord of Hosts’ or, as we might put it, the Lord of the Armies: the jealous Jehovah. …he also lords it over our own experience, today as many millenniae ago. He represents a familiar biological and social milieu: The blind forces of nature, completely indifferent to the human need for order and meaning and justice…: the unpredictable visitations by disease and death, the transitoriness of fame, the treason by friends and kin. He is the god of machines and power, of despotism and conquest, of pieces of brass and armoured plates.
Our Savage God

The Lord is in this place; how dreadful is this place,’ says a traditional English air. The second-century Christian heretic Marcion (100-165 CE), observing the holy violence of the Hebrew God, pronounced him saevus – ‘raving, savage, berserk’.

As you might expect from a raving savage, this God was not only ‘vengeful’ and ‘atrocious’, but inconsistent, full of contrary qualities, highly volatile and unstable. He was forever changing his mind, making laws only to announce later that he hated those who obey the very laws he has made. He… suddenly announces in a fit of rage: ‘Your new moons and sabbaths and great days I cannot abide; your fasting and workless days and feast days my soul hateth’, and… ‘I hate, I have rejected, your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.’ [16]

God’s justice is not justice at all by human standards. When Moses asked God ‘Shew me now thy way’, he got a surly reply: ‘I will shew mercy on whom I shew mercy’ [17] – that is, arbitrarily, and in the tone of ‘Mind you own damn business’.

According to Jewish legend, Moses persisted in this pestering even in the afterlife. When Moses arrived in heaven, God showed him the great men of the future. Among them, Rabbi Akiba, the most illustrious intellect of the second century CE, was seen interpreting the law in a most wonderful way. Moses said to God: ‘Thou hast shown me his worth; show me his reward.’ Moses was then treated to the sight of Rabbi Akiba being exquisitely tortured to death [as he was, by the Romans, in 135 CE], and his flesh being sold by weight. Somewhat taken aback, Moses asked: ‘Is this the reward of such a life?’ And God answered: ‘Be silent. This I have determined.’ [18] All power resides in the Lord:

See now that… there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive: I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever. [19]

And this power includes the capacity for evil. He says unambiguously:
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. [20]

Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?[21]

Behold… do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks; neither shall ye go haughtily: for this time is evil.[*22]
Christian Terrors

Christianity easily matches the excesses and caprices of the raving God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If you want it in full measure, I commend you to the Revelation of John the Divine. Jesus of Nazareth himself promised hell fire, outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth with the best. Upheaval and pain is not limited to the afterlife:
I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against the mother….[23]

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his whole life also, he cannot be my disciple.[24]
Entire cities attract his petulant wrath for failing to respond satisfactorily to his evangelism:
Woe unto thee Chorazin! Woe unto unto thee Bethsaida! …And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say… it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.[25]
Christians have no respite from the all-seeing eye of the omniscient Father, and will be judged accordingly:
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs on your head are numbered. …every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.[26]
Paul Tillich, who was probably the greatest Christian theologian of this century, addressed the sheer horror of living in the unwavering sight of the Lord:
Who can stand to be known so thoroughly even in the darkest corners of his soul? Who does not want to escape such a Witness? …Who does not hate a companion who is always present on every road and in every place of rest? …The final way of escape, the most intimate of all places, is held by God. …God stands on each side of us, before us and behind us. There is no way out.[27]
One thinks of the Epistle to the Hebrews: ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’[28]

In Christian belief, Jesus of Nazareth was the living God, made flesh. According to the Chalcedonian Definition of 451 CE, he is at once entirely human and entirely divine.[29] One of the most disquieting lessons of the Christian myth is that God habitually kills what he most loves. Most grotesquely, according to Pauline christology, he kills himself, in the flesh of Jesus, in order to save humanity from its fallen state and redeem it. But God loves and kills each of us, too; and none of us knows when the Reaper will call. The Talmud jokes about it: ‘Repent the day before you die.’

For all our vaunted free will, God has absolute control over the spark of life within us. We are absolutely at his disposal.
Victims, Martyrs, Masochists

This eschatology, the consciousness of God’s terrible qualities (including his love – that too must be unbearable), of one’s own sinfulness, with the incessant calls for repentance, and the shining example of the Nazarene’s agonizing martyrdom (whatever its salvific properties) – all these, I submit, can have a strangely crushing effect on the psyche.

The result is a psychopathology that promotes an ideal of the victim, longing to suffer pain, to confirm what he perceives as his own despicable vileness. Christianity ostensibly exalts personal salvation, liberation from the burden of original sin, and joy in the boundless love of the Lord: one is ‘washed in the blood of the Lamb’, in its own bizarre yet revealing imagery. And that image surely gives away the heart of the matter. I surely don’t have to recite from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to prove that the Church heaps honors on its self-inflicted casualties – those who have loved Jesus and hated their own lives.

In Freudian terms, the underlying dynamic of this is masochism – a hopeless sense of individual worthlessness, shame, and a craving for the oblivion represented by union with the Christ, which can only be enjoyed in death. Thus Leonard Cohen pictures white smoke billowing up around Joan of Arc like a wedding gown:
She said ‘I’m tired of the war
I want the kind of work I had before
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite’…
It was deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of Joan of Arc
And high above the wedding guests
He hung the ashes of her lovely wedding dress [30]
Self-punishment then becomes a key (personal, rather than communal) ritual. Following this psychological line, Catherine of Siena obliterated herself on one occasion, positively embracing the form evil had taken in her sight. In an ‘exalted spirit’, she felt revulsion from the wounds she was tending [and] bitterly reproached herself. Sound hygiene was incompatible with charity, so she deliberately drank off a bowl of pus. [*31]

This motif of calculated humiliation, self-abasement and degradation is one that we will meet again in the ufological context, if in less extreme form, in the second article in this series.


To quote the Koran in this context may seem irrelevant and merely completist. Moslem nations are significantly not awash with claims of UFO activity, and countries that are contain only small, if often significant, Moslem communities – for example, there are 6 million Sunnis in the United States, the vast majority of whom adhere to the movement that initially followed the teaching of Wali Fard (brilliantly publicized in the 1960s by Malcolm X). But there is more to it than that.

It is not only reasonable – interesting, even – to point out the continuity of the attributes of Allah, ostensibly ‘the merciful, the compassionate’, with those of the God of the Tanach and the New Testament. It also gives backbone to the contention I shall promulgate in due course: that ufology arises only in certain social, psychological and perceptual religious climates, which for better or worse most Islamic nations have so far largely avoided. To strengthen this hypothesis, and to let the reader assess it, it’s only to offer fair some handle on Islam.

There are real distinctions between Allah and the Judaeo-Christian God, and perhaps the most striking is the lack of human free will and the powerful implication of predestination in the words that Allah dictated to his prophet. For examples:
A space of time is fixed for every nation. (sura 7)
Consider the fate of the evil-doers.
We made them leaders of unbelief. They called men to hell fire, but on the day of resurrection none shall help them. In this world We laid our curse on them, and on the day of resurrection We shall dishonour them. (sura 28) ... he whom Allah misleads shall have none to guide him. (sura 39)
A reader sensitive to the nature of the Semitic God might conclude that the doctrine of predestination, which indeed is embraced by the imams, is only a logical if dispiriting extension of the concept of a fate ordered by an omniscient, omnipotent Creator who is as much the source of evil as of good. That Allah is the supreme source of evil is not left open to doubt in the Koran. For examples:
‘Because you have led me into sin,’ said Satan, ‘I will waylay your servants as they walk on your straight path….’ (sura 7)

When you recite the Koran, We place between you and those who deny the life to come a hidden barrier. We cast a veil upon their hearts and make them hard of hearing, lest they understand it. (sura 17)
Allah is omniscient like the Judaeo-Christian God:
If three men talk in secret together, he [Allah] is their fourth… whether fewer or more, wherever they be, he is with them. (sura 58)

There is nothing in heaven and earth beyond the power of Allah. Mighty is he and all-knowing. (sura 35)
Allah’s omnipotence is constantly expressed in terms of control:
We have told you that your Lord controls all men. (sura 17);

The night is another sign. From the night we lift the day…. The sun is not allowed to overtake the moon, nor does the night outpace the day. … We gave them another sign when We carried their offspring in the laden Ark. …We drown them if We will: none can help or rescue them, except through our mercy and unless We please to prolong their lives for a while. …Glory be to him who has control of all things! (sura 36)
The note of exultant power and whimsical sadism here is found elsewhere in the Koran. There are even echoes, if less poetic ones, of the raving megalomaniac who confronted Job:
We created you: will you not believe then in Our power?
Behold the semen you discharge: did you create it, or We?
…Consider the seeds you sow. Is it you that give them growth or We?
…Consider the water which you drink. Was it you that poured it from the cloud or We?
If We pleased We could turn it bitter. Why then do you not give thanks? (sura 56)

Do you not see how Allah drives the clouds, then gathers them and piles them up in masses which pour down torrents of rain? From heaven’s mountains he sends down hail, pelting with it whom he will and turning it away from whom he pleases. The flash of his lightning almost snatches off men’s eyes. …Allah creates what he pleases. He has power over all things. (sura 24) [32]
For those unimpressed – or whom Allah causes to be unimpressed – by all this, Hell of course awaits. Inmates will, it seems, be boiled as well as burned throughout eternity. Islam thus maintains the grand tradition of the absolutist, capricious, and savage God who revealed himself to the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets.

American Religion

I remarked earlier that the UFO syndrome is overwhelmingly an American phenomenon. To say it is derived from the USA is meant to be more than another way of stating the obvious – that most seminal UFO cases are American – and more than suggesting what is now less than a half-truth, that ufologists worldwide take their lead from US ‘researchers’. I want to include the thought that where a fascination with UFOs is found, there you will find reflections and echoes of the American cultural condition. They may be imported (as, if only in part, in the UK) or they may be coincidental (as in Japan); they may be for many various causes indigenous. I will pursue this issue in the final part of this series.

For now, the logic of my argument runs: if the above is true, and if ufology is at heart a religious phenomenon, then the elements of any singularly American religious apprehension are bound to find their way into the UFO syndrome; and are therefore worth considering.

This isn’t the place to review one of the most provocative analyses of the concepts buried in American religious life, Harold Bloom’s The American Religion. [33] Nor is there space to follow Bloom’s route to his conclusions. But the neglected holy violence of the Semitic God – and his just, compassionate and tender qualities, which I felt did not need emphasis here – need to be seen through the lens of the American religious perception.

Bloom concludes that ‘the American sense of religion [is] almost wholly experiential’; the key experience is one in which ‘the believer returns from the abyss of ecstasy with the self enhanced and otherness [i.e. a sense of community] devalued.’ Bloom relates this solitary knowledge of God to the Gnostic belief that Creation and the Fall were simultaneous, but left behind a divine spark in Man:

Something in the American self is persuaded that it also preceded the created world. An abyss within the self finds itself at peace when it is alone with an abyss that preceded the world God made. The freedom assured by the American religion… is a solitude in which the inner loneliness is at home in an outer loneliness. (p31)
The American Eden

Pondering that passage, one thinks of Natty Bumppo, and of the long, insidious tradition of America as Eden: [34] a garden in which one is alone, in all that endless wild space, with God, but most particularly with oneself – in ‘the Freedom that is Wildness’, as Bloom puts it (page 114). This national self-image lasted well into the 19th century, [35] and in some sense still exists today in the belief that the United States is the land of opportunity – i.e. unfettered liberty, which as D.H. Lawrence knew is a species of solitude that borders on solipsism. And it survives in the powerful myth of the lonesome, drifting Western hero, who shares some characteristics with another quintessential American figure, Huck Finn – ‘Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it.’ As Bloom puts it (pages 63 and 65), in the great Revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801, from which all home-grown American religions ultimately sprang,
…all the holy rolling was the outward mark of an inward grace that traumatically put away frontier loneliness and instead put on the doctrine of experience that exalted such loneliness into a being-alone-with-Jesus ... Jesus is not so much an event in history for the American Religionist as he is a knower of the secrets of God who in return can be known by the individual.
The same mythos may also be spied feeding the rebellion of the US right-wing militias against ‘big government’; Bloom several times expresses his gloom at the political implications of the foundations of the American Religion.

The vast American spaces are mirrored in ‘a total inward solitude’ that provides ‘the freedom to know God’ (page 32). The solitude is that of the desert, always the haunt of gods and their seekers, and is inimical to civilization. Bloom implicitly identifies the American religious experience with rebirth, through its concentration on the resurrected Christ (page 40):
American religion… is a severely internalized quest romance, in which some version of immortality serves as the object of desire. …Catholics worship Christ crucified, but the Baptists salute the empty cross, from which Jesus already has arisen. Resurrection is the entire concern of the American Religion, which gets Christ off the cross as quickly as Milton removed him, in just a line and a half of Paradise Lost.
It is worth pointing here to the Mormon belief that it was during the 40 days after the resurrection that the Nazarene visited America. And, too, that the cross does not form part of Mormon iconography, while Joseph Smith proclaimed secretly that Mormons would become gods, and not, apparently, only in the afterlife; there is a tradition that he had himself crowned king of the Kingdom of God. [36] Mary Baker Eddy too, Bloom notes (page 134), had a secular (at least, mundane) and universal notion of resurrection. In her words: ‘Resurrection from the dead (that is, belief in death) must come to all sooner or later.’

These themes, as well as the amazing Mrs Eddy, we shall meet again later. Bloom’ summarizes (page 103) the three fundamental principles of the American Religion as: the Gnostic notion that the soul predates Creation; the essential solitude of the experience of God or Jesus; and that faith is based on that direct experience (‘knowledge’), not ‘upon mere assent’.

What holds these principles together is the American persuasion, however muted or obscured, that we are mortal gods, destined to find ourselves again in worlds yet undiscovered.

And there, I suggest, is the significance of the empty cross to the American believer: it proclaims a transcendent rebirth to a nation already reborn into Eden.
One Nation Under God
Bloom leaves no doubt that the United States is what he calls a ‘religion-mad’ or ‘religion-soaked’ country. A 1989 Gallup poll found that 31 per cent of the American people believe they speak directly to God (page 53). Whatever they actually believe, 94 per cent of them wanted the Gallup pollsters to think they believe in God, 90 per cent pray, and 88 per cent believe that God loves them (page 37). Also in 1989, Life magazine reported that, according to another survey, ‘over 70 per cent of the people in this country [i.e. Americans] now believe there is some evil spirit in the universe they call the devil, while there are less than 40 per cent who believe in a God.’ [37]
These contradictory figures can be judged in the context of those given in the 1990 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, which ‘reported a total… 145,383,738 members of religious groups in the US – 58.7 per cent of the population’, a figure 1.1 per cent up on 1989. [38] The largest single church is the Southern Baptist Convention, with 14,812,844 members within the larger group of Baptist churches representing about 25,650,000 members.
Numbers and proportions like these mean that if Bloom’s analysis is correct (and it is certainly very persuasive), then a huge proportion of the American people is, if not strict believers, certainly familiar with the essential concepts – the mythos – of the American Religion. Whichever figure for professed belief is more accurate, increasing secularization does not mean that the mythic underpinning of a belief vanishes with the profession of a specific faith. It will merely find new outward forms. As Hyam Maccoby says,
When a religion declines, its dogmas may decay rapidly, but its fantasies take much longer to disappear. … The myth upon which a religion is based may be more deeply influential than its creeds. It is the myth that determines the temper of the culture to which the religion gives rise, and this temper may survive the death of belief in the creeds by many generations. [39]
For ufologists, this means two things. It confirms the oft-repeated and almost universally ignored dictum that the background of claimants to close encounters of any kind must be exhaustively established if a complete evaluation of a case is to be possible. And it means, as a logical consequence, that something as ripe as the UFO experience for mythic development has to be considered in the light of the complex of Gnostic, syncretic, millenarian beliefs that Bloom calls the American Religion. For it is clear that hardly anyone in the United States can have escaped them. They are part of the American Myth, and not that far removed from the American Dream. As Bloom remarks, ‘since the American Religion was syncretic, from the start, it can establish itself within nearly any outward form.’ The invasion of ufology by the worm of religion, and vice versa, is what I will consider next.

Ufology can be called a syndrome because: first, it is just that, a running together [Greek: sun, together + dramein, to run] of alleged incidents and their consequences in an identifiable pattern; and second, because we know about the vast majority of UFO events from second-hand reports made by ufologists, not directly from witnesses.
Generally, what we get by the time an event reaches the public domain is an alleged experience that has been mediated by investigators, who are also the reporters of the alleged events, and who (as you well know) display varying degrees of expertise, objectivity, honesty, gullibility and crankiness. So there is a running together of ‘witness’ and investigator-cum-reporter that makes most UFO and abduction stories, in fact, a collaborative effort. And of course reporters and investigators are well versed in the literature—as indeed are many witnesses, before they make, or have drawn out of them through questioning or hypnosis, their own claims. All of this story-making is subject at each stage to a narrator’s belief system.
There is a third level of syndrome, in that there is a community, albeit loose and scattered, of parties all interested in different ways in these claims—and they collaborate too, in that they report, read and comment upon one another’s productions. I suspect that these different levels or layers of communication and collaboration (and I don’t mean conspiracy!) have all interacted and contributed to the shape and indeed many details of the UFO-related narratives we all know so well. For example, the ‘hybrid breeding program’ so beloved of Hopkins, Jacobs and Mack—sounds like an advertising agency—was prefigured in von Daniken’s books and before them in those of Lethbridge, Pauwels and Bergier, among others.
Thus by the ‘UFO syndrome’ I mean the whole complex web of claims, reports (tales), reflections, qualifications and beliefs that joins witnesses, investigators and commentators.
Self-aggrandisement through extravagant (almost fluorescent) titles of dubious provenance seems to be one of the signs of a false-Messiah pattern, especially on the ufological circuit.
The august founder of the Aetherius Society, has steadily progressed from an unrecognized degree-mill Doctorate of Divinity through ‘Sri’, to a knighthood (‘Sir’), followed by a countship and these days, one hears, likes to be known as a prince. One wonders why he hasn’t taken the obvious step, and called himself simply ‘The King’—surely no one is so disrespectful as to addresses him as mere ‘George’ these days, and he no doubt regards himself as worthier of the title than Elvis Presley.
Ruth Norman, leader of the Unarius cult, was known as Uriel, or Universal Radiant Infinite Eternal Light; she and her husband claimed to be (respectively) reincarnations of Mary Magdalen and Jesus of Nazareth. Over the years she adopted such titles as the Universal Seeress, Healing Archangel, Spirit of Beauty, Goddess of Love, and Cosmic Generator. Her more prosaic neighbors in El Cajon, California, were unimpressed, and referred to her simply as ‘Spaceship Ruthie’.
[See John A. Saliba, 'Religious Dimensions of UFO Phenomena' in James R. Lewis (ed) The Gods Have Landed, State University of New York 1995, page 46 (this book also contains an interesting profile of Norman's movement as a whole by Diana Tumminia and R. George Fitzpatrick); and Margaret Sachs, UFO Encyclopedia, Corgi 1980, page 222.]
Gnostic belief was a powerful force in the second century of the Common Era and may have been formalized some centuries before that: scholars seem divided on the issue. Gnosticism solved the contradiction of a loving God who, as a logical consequence of being also the Creator, is the ultimate, and acquiescent, source of evil. The Gnostic solution lay in divorcing a higher, unknown, transcendent, true God from material creation, which is the work of the Demiurge, identified as the Biblical God. The material world came about as the result of a Fall, often said to be that of Lucifer from heaven. Thus the Semitic God is demonized, and in consequence the world and the flesh with it. However—and this is crucial to the American religion—humanity still partakes of the ultimate godhead, for the body imprisons a ‘divine spark’ that longs to escape the flesh and be reunited with its source.
These are the beliefs Harold Bloom is calling on in The American Religion when he says that Americans believe they are older than creation and the Edenic Fall, and in some sense equal to God. He notes (page 260) that in practice American religions are not, by and large, ostensibly dualistic in the sense of believing that either the world or the body is evil and is the work of the Devil (although one might find a mirror-image trace of this in the otherwise startling Mormon doctrine that God is a material person). Bloom identifies American dualism with a dualistic sense of self, part human and part potentially divine —’the occult self, the [already] saved element in one’s being, [which] goes back beyond nature to God, beyond the Creation to the Creator.’
That Creator is not the Gnostic Demiurge, but the usual suspect, the Semitic God. The Emersonian conviction that God is in a prelapsarian sense within us ties together the Edenic wilderness of America, the peculiar solitude of American communion (‘American ecstasy is solitary, even when it requires the presence of others as audience for the self’s glory’—page 264), and the emphasis on the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth in American derivations of Christianity, to make an unusually pregnant complex of mythic symbols. It certainly contains the potential to be expressed in other than ‘theological’ forms.

  1. The Arabic, I am told, is muharram, which translates roughly as ‘those who do bad’, which is not the same as doing evil (maskhut). Djinns inhabit liminal zones such as cracks in walls, plugholes in sinks, doorways, windows, and similar places and, intriguingly, they enjoy music [which puts me in mind of a remark by Suzanne Langer somewhere in Philosophy In A New Key to the effect that music is symbolism 'in a vegetable state', i.e. on the brink of being a symbolic language; while the associations of music and Otherworlds and otherworldly states, to which music may transport you, are legion - a fundamental theme in the musical criticism of Wilfrid Mellers]. Djinns require propitiation, particularly before eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, washing, &c., but are not intrinsically evil. One wonders if they are not literally superstitions of the pre-Islamic animist religion in Arabia, occupying a place in the psyche rather like that held by the Tuatha De Danaan in Ireland.
  2. If this conspiracy exists, it strikes me as strange that Israeli Kfir jets have so far omitted to nuke the crap out of Brussels and remove the EU and all its monstrous bureaucratic works, that so inhibit free trade and economic liberty, from the face of the Earth. Business is business, after all.
  3. Robert K.G. Temple, The Sirius Mystery, Sidgwick & Jackson 1976; Richard L. Thompson, Alien Identities, Govardhan Hill 1994.
  4. See, for example, the analysis of New Testament texts in Hyam Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, Free Press (New York) 1992. Maccoby uses the contradictions in the various accounts of Judas as clues to both what is original, perhaps historical material, and what has been inserted to conform with politico-theological requirements of the Pauline church. See pages 137 and 181 for concise explanations of the tendenz method.
  5. John Whitmore, ‘Religious Dimensions of the UFO Abduction Experience’, in James R. Lewis (ed.), The Gods Have Landed, SUNY 1995, p.80. Essays by the other scholars just mentioned are also in this highly recommended book.
  6. R.C. Zaehner, Our Savage God, Collins 1974, page 77.
  7. Ibidem
  8. Epistle of Paul to the Romans 12:19, an adaptation of Deuteronomy 32:35.
  9. See Ed Sanders, The Family, E.P. Dutton (New York) 1971, pages 128-9. [This is the unexpurgated first edition, with references to The Process unexcised.] Manson believed he had actually overcome death by submitting to it and surviving.
  10. Moses Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, tr. M. Friedlander, Routledge & Kegan Paul, N.D. US reprint of the 1904 (second, revised) edition, pages 81, 83.
  11. Op. cit., page 71. Translator’s parenthesis. Might Einstein have seen this passage?
  12. There is an excellent exposition of this doctrine by a character in Anthony Burgess’s novel Earthly Powers (Hutchinson 1980); see Chapter 27.
  13. Job 2:10.
  14. C.G. Jung, Answer to Job, RKP 1954, pages 3-4.
  15. Herman Tennessen, ‘A Masterpiece of Existential Blasphemy’, The Human World No 13 (November 1973), pages 1-8.
  16. R.C. Zaehner, op. cit., pages 225-6. See Isaiah 1:13-14, and Amos 5:21.
  17. Exodus 33:19.
  18. Cited in Solomon Schechter, Studies in Judaism, Meridian 1958, page 118.
  19. Deuteronomy 32:39-40.
  20. Isaiah 45:7.
  21. Amos 3:6.
  22. Micah 2:3.
  23. Matthew 10:34-5.
  24. Luke 14:26. See below on the consequences of hating your ‘own life also’.
  25. Matthew 11:21-24.
  26. Matthew 11:29-30; 12:36.
  27. Paul Tillich, ‘The Escape From God’, The Shaking of the Foundations, SCM Press 1949, pages 50-52.
  28. Hebrews 10:31.
  29. ‘It lies beyond my meagre abilities as an interpreter of dogmatic theology to explain how it is possible for one person to be 100 per cent human and 100 per cent divine, without either interfering with the other…. The orthodox believer learns more about what not to say than about how to talk about Jesus meaningfully.’ – E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, Allen Lane 1993, page 134.
  30. Leonard Cohen, Joan of Arc, Stranger Music Inc (BMI) 1987.
  31. Mary Douglas, Purity And Danger, (RKP 1966) Pelican edition 1970, page 17. Anyone interested in attitudes to liminal places and conditions, ‘boundary experiences’ and the like, should read this marvelously humane book, deservedly a classic of anthropology, as much for its asides as for its central argument. Djinns in plugholes would be impressed, probably, too.
  32. All translations are from N.J. Dawood (trans.), The Koran, Penguin 1964.
  33. Simon and Schuster (New York) 1992.
  34. See, for example, Peter Martyr, Decades (1555), in Edward Arber (ed), The First Three English Books on America, Birmingham 1855, in which (page 71) Martyr identifies the Indies with ‘the goulden worlde of the which owlde wryters speak so much’. And: ‘Even as late as the last years of the sixteenth century, the Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton could write of Virginia as “Earth’s onely Paradise”.’ – Walter Allen, The Urgent West, John Baker 1969, page 14. See also Chapter 1 of J.H. Elliott, The Old World and the New, Cambridge UP 1972, especially pages 24-5. Another late expression of this idea can also be found in Andrew Marvell’s poem Bermudas.
  35. See Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth, Harvard University Press 1950, Chapter 11.
  36. Mormons are not monotheists, but they are Gnostic. In April 1844 Joseph Smith preached: ‘God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret… I might with boldness proclaim from the house-tops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself….’ (Quoted in Bloom, op. cit., page 95.)
  37. Cited in Rollo May, The Cry for Myth, Souvenir Press 1991, page 270 (footnote).
  38. Quoted in The World Almanack 1991, Pharos Books (New York) 1990: see ‘Religious Information’, page 609.
  39. Op. cit., pages 127 and 165. Maccoby here echoes an insight of Ernst Cassirer in The Myth of the State, that a nation’s history is determined by its mythology; on the same theme Rollo May (op. cit., page 92) quotes Virgil: ‘We make our destiny by our choice of gods.’ Maccoby provides ample illustration of these truths in tracing post-Christian political and eventually genocidal anti-semitism back to its roots in the Judas myth of the early Christian (Pauline) church. He is also illuminating (pages 94-96) on the psychological contortions that Christianity demands of its unfortunate adherents in accommodating the doctrine of the Nazarene’s salvific martyrdom, and devastating in his comparison of the parallel legends concerning the childhoods of Judas, Moses and Oedipus (pages 102-107). This last will be treated in a later part of this series.